THE FOUNDING OF TEMPLE EMANU-EL (1928 – 1929)
The women of Dothan, led by Mrs. Myer Blumberg, started the first official organization of Jews in Dothan with the formation of a Sisterhood chapter.
In 1928, the growing population of Jewish children made the need for a formal congregation more urgent. It was then that Dothan’s Jews formed an organized congregation.
The legally constituted body of Temple Emanu-El of Dothan was formed January 30, 1929, with 14 founding families. Among the founding members were children of Dothan’s earliest Jewish families: Myer Blumberg, Henry Crine, and Joe Kraselsky.
In 1929, under the leadership of its first president, Henry Crine, Temple Emanu-El bought a plot of land to construct its own house of worship.
TEMPLE CONSTRUCTION & OUR FIRST RABBI (1940 – 1941)
Due to the severe economic difficulties of the Great Depression, Temple construction wouldn’t begin until 1940, and wasn’t completed until 1941.
The Dothan Eagle reported on the congregation’s plans to construct Temple Emanu-El, even noting that the “lot has been owned by the Temple Emanu-El organization for more than ten years.” (May 16, 1939.)
In May 1941, Temple Emanu-El welcomed its first full-time rabbi, Rabbi Alfred Wolf, and the congregation participated in service events to support the troops during World War II.
When Rabbi Wolf retired in 1946, the Temple welcomed additional full-time rabbis. Building expansion and improvements continued throughout the mid- and late-twentieth century.
THE SILVER ANNIVERSARY & THE SANCTUARY FIRE (1954 & 1967)
Twenty-five years after affixing a mezuzah on its door, Temple Emanu-El celebrated its silver anniversary. Led by Rabbi Israel J. Gerber, the congregation celebrated with a special anniversary sermon. The following week, members held a festive banquet at the Houston Hotel.
The newspaper article, “Temple Observes 25th Anniversary,” profiled our special anniversary and offered readers an important background of Temple Emanu-El. (The Dothan Eagle, February 28, 1954.)
“In 1967, a fire in the electric wiring above the Sanctuary caused extensive damage, though worship services were able to continue without interruption.
The Torah scrolls were rescued by Mr. Sam Behrman. As a result of the fire, the Sanctuary received a new ceiling, lighting fixtures, and an organ.”
— Rabbi Paul Tuchman and C. Davis Turner, Temple Emanu-El, Golden Anniversary (1929-1979), 1979.
TEMPLE EMANU-EL CELEBRATES GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY (1979)
The Temple’s 50th anniversary was celebrated March 31, 1979 with a luncheon in the Fellowship Hall, followed by an evening party at the Dothan Country Club.
Rabbi Paul Tuchman compiled a unique booklet on the history of Jewish life in Dothan since 1929. The booklet included letters of reflection from previous rabbis, including a special message from Rabbi Wolf, in which he fondly recalled the early days of Temple Emanu-El.
75th ANNIVERSARY & OUR FIRST FULL-TIME FEMALE RABBI (2004 – 2017)
Temple Emanu-El celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2004. When Rabbi Larry Mahrer retired in 2006, the Temple hired its first full-time female rabbi, Lynne Goldsmith. (Photo credit: The Dothan Eagle, Date unknown.)
In the fall of 2007, a group of committed members of the Temple, with financial backing from the Blumberg family of Dothan, started the Blumberg Family Jewish Community Services (JCS). The goal, through its Family Relocation Program, was to attract new Jewish families to Dothan.
Rabbi Lynne retired in 2017, after ten years of service. In appreciation of her many contributions, including fostering inter-faith relationships, Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz (2009-2017) honored Rabbi Lynne and presented her with a key to the city.
OUR FIRST CANTOR & CONTINUED GROWTH (2019 – PRESENT)
In 2019, for the first time in its history, Temple Emanu-El welcomed a Cantor as their Spiritual Leader. Cantor Neil Schwartz has overseen congregations from Saskatchewan to Louisiana. We’re thankful to have him with us in Dothan, Alabama.
In recent years, Temple membership has continued to expand and religious school enrollment has grown. Sisterhood, Brotherhood, and Hadassah remain strong and active. Adult education, including weekly Torah study and Introduction to Hebrew classes, are available to members of all levels of experience.
In 2021, we shared much mazel with the bar mitzvah and confirmation of four of our religious school students. That December, we named our religious school in honor of Edward F. Rudderman, our Temple’s first Bar Mitzvah, and celebrated the completion of a major sanctuary renovation, the first in twenty-five years.
Temple Emanu-El is blessed with a powerful combination of strong lay and spiritual leadership, member involvement, and community support. The result has been a positive, warm, and welcoming congregation. Members are proud to say that Temple Emanu-El is “small but mighty,” standing tall as the only Jewish house of worship, study, and assembly within a 90-mile radius.
Portions of text copied or adapted from the ISJL Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities